Oden on Bible Gender Confusion

Oden_classic christianity coverOne of the books that we are critically reading through in my systematic theology colloquium class is Classic Christianity [Thomas Oden (2009) New York: Harper One Publishing] In the introductory section of Book 3 – Life in the Spirit, he takes a blow at modern revisions that want to eliminate masculine language in reference to God.

Grammatical heroics that attempt a complete withdrawal from masculine language are often rhetorically awkward, especially when nouns are repeated to avoid whatever gender pronoun might be regarded as offensive. Similar absurdities arise when verbs are preferred that require no object, where the odd repetition of the word ‘God’ is used to substitute for ‘he’, and direct address is shifted to ‘you’. The enthusiast is sorely tempted to rewrite scripture to gain a hearing with a particular audience.

But no one prays to an ‘it’, even if steeped in modernity. Liturgical ‘reforms’ that systematically expunge the name Father from all acts of Christian worship are unacceptable to most worshipping communities. The reason is deeper than egalitarian motivations, for Jesus repeatedly called God Father (Abba). This became a defining feature of his teaching (Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Augustine, Epis. to Gal. 31.1.4.6). Continue reading

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Women, Ministry and the Greater Good

woman teachingIn spite of my intentions to not write on issues involving women in ministry, I am compelled once again to do so.  Sadly, the reason I am reluctant to talk about these issues is for the same reason that we must talk about them – the dismissiveness of women who speak of women in ministry as self-serving and rebellious. No, actually the dismissiveness of women. Period.

I do not want to take a position with this post in terms of women’s roles in ministry. It really isn’t my intention at all to make an argument one way or the other. But I do want to ask some questions related to the greater good of the church and how we understand roles with respect to the body of Christ growing itself up together in love.  Yes, let’s think about the greater good.

I came across this article that recounted a touching story of a young women who took on a group of young people as disciples in her church. What makes the story even more compelling is that these were kids that apparently no one wanted to be bothered with –  tattooed, socially abhorant misfits who did not seem to fit in. Yet, they wanted to learn. And they had questions about God and the bible and what constitutes a good Christian lifestyle.

Sadly, the warm touch of the story turned into a striking blow as this young lady describes the command laid out to her that she must not teach because apparently the boys in the class were too old. Not only did they probably lose the only person in the church that cared enough to take them under their wing, but they eventually fell through the cracks and left the church. What was the greater good here? Continue reading

A Woman of Substance

I came across the name Henrietta Mears (1890-1963) several years ago when thumbing through her book What the Bible is All About as I waited for a prescription to be filled. Since that time, I have been fascinated by her. She was a Christian educator and influenced the likes of Bill Bright and Billy Graham. She was definitely complementarian, but smashed the idea that women were only suited for roles of support to their husbands and children. Never married, she dedicated herself to the task of teaching the word of God, holistically, purely and simply and the development of quality resources to accomplish the task, including teacher training and development.  Talbot School of Theology did a nice write up on her. I encourage you to read the whole thing, including the quotes at the bottom. But here’s an excerpt that I think really sums it up.

Henrietta Mears as an influential woman in ministry was something of an anomaly-a woman far ahead of her time. When one searches for contemporary examples of conservative Christians who have changed the way people view women in Christian service, she leaps to the forefront. The scope of her ministry and the variety of leadership positions she assumed was remarkable, given the fact that vocational ministry opportunities for women were fairly limited during her lifetime. It might be fair to say that she has broken ground and raised the consciousness of those of both genders concerning options open to women within and outside the church. Continue reading

Lead Us Not Into Misreading: Seeing the Mutuality in Ephesians 5:22-33

Well, it’s happened once again. I came across another mention of Ephesians 5:22:33 as a proof-text that men are to lead their wives. In fact, I’m noticing this to be pretty common verbiage regarding the complementarian perspective. Although, as I’ve written about here that I think we should distinguish between patriarchalism and complementarianism.

Nonetheless, I’ll get straight to the point. I think to read men’s leadership of their wives into this text is not only imposing something on it that Paul is not conveying, but also is just a tad bit dishonest and agenda driven. And I write this as one committed to a complementarian perspective and affirms male headship. There is a mutuality that gets missed by insisting this passage is about men leading their wives.

First, the passage really begins in vs 21 – “and submit to one another in the fear of Christ”. Well actually, this is a continuation of thought from the previous verses beginning with vs 15, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise people but as wise people”. Context and following Paul’s flow of thought is important. From there he’ll talk about how that’s done – making the most of time, being filled with the Holy Spirit and having a right attitude towards one another (vv 16-20). Continue reading

Can a Woman Teach a Man?

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

This is probably one of the most hotly debated and divisive passages in the Bible. Interpretations will varying depending upon how the relevancy of the cultural situation is factored in.  While I see a timeless principle at work there is also some cultural considerations that are being addressed. Moreover, we have to weigh what Paul is instructing Timothy with the complete witness of scripture.

In that regard I think some questions are in order.

  • What did “teach or exercise authority” mean in that setting?
  • Did Paul really mean for women to have no voice in the church? How does that fit with the distribution of gifts for the edification of the body of Christ?
  • Didn’t women prophesy in mixed settings? How does that translate to today, particularly related to a global perspective and organically developed ministry situations?
  • What cultural factors if any were influencing Paul’s instruction and how does that translate into contemporary situations?

As a complementarian, I affirm male headship and do believe there are restrictions. I have no issues with learning in silence or submitting to male headship. But I also consider how this is to play out with how the whole body of Christ is edified so that it grows itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16). I think it’s unfortunate when cultural factors are given due consideration in other passages, but seem to get dismissed here under the rubric “the bible clearly says”.  I honestly think there should be some tension here. It’s also unfortunate when any assertion by women for speaking is construed as self-serving, which is the chief reason I tend to stay away from the gender debate.

Well, I’ll be going back in that hole soon. But for what it’s worth, I’d thought I’d share a position paper I wrote out last summer for a required course I took on Acts and the Pauline epistles.

Position on Women and Bible Teaching